SEARSPORT, Maine — Zach Parker’s high school history project has earned him the highest possible grade — and has started to take him places he never imagined going.
Those include the Boston Fox News affiliate, where the 17-year-old from Frankfort will be featured Friday morning on the national program “Fox & Friends.” On Thursday afternoon, the energetic and talkative teen gave an impromptu press conference outside the Searsport public safety building before heading south to talk about his plan to propose federal legislation to ban all protests at military funerals.
Parker’s efforts are aimed at the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas congregation that has made a name for itself by protesting at soldiers’ funerals across the country.
“I never expected this,” he said before getting into the Lincoln Town Car provided by Fox News that would bring him to the city. “It’s not about me. It’s all about respecting our fallen heroes and the troops that are serving our country.”
Three federal laws and laws in 40 states, including Maine, limit protests near military funerals. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments against the church’s actions and is expected to rule on the issue next year.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have said that they intend to picket Parker’s Jan. 5 presentation on his history class project, but they are not the only people who are paying attention to him.
The teen said that he has received more than 100 e-mails, from as far away as California, since his story first was publicized in the Bangor Daily News earlier this week.
Parker also said that he has been featured on local TV news and radio and that CNN, NBC and CBS have ex-pressed interest in broadcasting his story nationally.
“There’s so much, I can’t even keep up with everything,” he said. “It is kind of intimidating.”
But he seemed upbeat and excited, especially when he spotted the shiny black car pulling into the parking lot to pick him up.
“I’m quite surprised with how far it’s gotten,” he said.
A “Fox & Friends” producer invited him to be either flown to New York for the program or driven to Boston, where the channel will put him and his mother, Tara Parker, up for the night at a Marriott hotel.
The two were seen off Thursday from the Searsport public safety building by Zach’s father, James Parker, his younger sister, a school official and several media representatives.
Tara Parker said that she and her husband have watched their son “grow up a lot” over the course of his project.
“We’re both very proud of him for standing up for what he believes in,” she said. “He’s turned out to be a very passionate young man.”
That passion might be necessary in order to go head to head with the small but outspoken congregation from Kansas. Spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper told the BDN earlier this week that Parker’s proposal dismisses First Amendment rights to free speech, to religious freedom and to peaceable assembly.
“We are pro-God. That First Amendment is from God, and they ought to quit screwing with it. Leave it alone,” she said Sunday.
Parker said he disagrees with the notion that his proposal goes against the First Amendment.
“If I put a bill in place to say you are not to protest at a military funeral for an hour before and an hour after or within a mile, that’s different. That’s respecting the family,” he said.
According to Zach Parker, he will be featured on “Fox & Friends” at 8:20 a.m. Friday, Dec. 31.
His presentation will begin at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Searsport District High School. It is open to the public, and those who want to attend may RSVP by e-mailing Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.